For Sean Kauffman, new to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, a leap to Denmark has consequently made a big splash here at Queen’s. After completing two years as a Postdoctoral Researcher at Aalborg University, Kauffman has adopted much more than just some good, old-fashioned hygge, but an innovative approach to both his teaching and research pursuits too.

"My wife and I have both lived abroad before. We thought, let's push ourselves out of our comfort zone one last time," says Kauffman. "It was a good experience." At Aalborg University he taught a graduate level machine intelligence course in the computer science department and participated firsthand in the problem-based approach to teaching and learning. An innovative spin on traditional engineering pedagogy, it is a method that Aalborg has adopted across its entire university.

According to Kauffman, this method of teaching and learning provides students with many benefits, including heightened skills in building things, analyzing problems, and growing more accustomed to group work. Students also learn to write more effectively about issues and craft extensive project reports. "They learned about several skills that I think many engineering students don't get enough exposure to. The current view is that students will learn these skills during an internship or on their first job," says Kauffman, who believes these tasks can add significant value to course content and career preparation.

Here at Queen’s, he intends to actively foster engagement among his students by incorporating techniques such as active learning and peer instruction. One new program that will benefit from his dynamic teaching style is an upcoming Masterclass, a groundbreaking idea that other universities have adopted to create more interest in engineering. The concept is to offer high school students from around the globe synchronous classes online with Smith Engineering professors to “get a taste of the university experience,” according to Kauffman. Although the course is currently in development, he looks forward to being an integral part of this new initiative.

Regarding his own research, which is focused on safety-critical embedded systems, Kauffman is excited and passionate about what lies on the horizon. His current work involves assurance of the safety functions of embedded computer software, in everything from water pumps to anti-lock brakes to spacecraft. For many of these applications, failure isn’t an option because it can cause human injury, negatively impact the environment, or lead to extreme profit loss for companies.

Kauffman is working on fault tolerance, runtime verification, and proven-correct computing to help avoid these potential severe pitfalls. "How do we ensure that the software is designed so that it works correctly? How do we detect problems at runtime when it's running?" says Kauffman. "You want to verify when you create the software that it can never have a problem. We're trying to check the system while it runs and look at the results of it running afterward. Is it doing the correct thing? Can we see if something is going wrong? If so, how can we mitigate that? How do you recover?"

Accordingly, in light of his incredible research journey, the future at Queen’s is bright for Kauffman, who truly values all the school offers. "One of the reasons I chose Queen’s is because it has a big support structure for professors that not only ensures success but allows for time to focus on the most important things," he says. “I can say it's really been excellent. The number of people here to help ensure that everything goes well, particularly for new faculty, is very cool."



This article is relevant to the following Strategic Actions as defined in the Strategic Plan:

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